- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

BANGKOK (AP) - Thai authorities have charged an activist lawyer and five other people with defaming the monarchy, pushing the tally of people charged with lese majeste to more than 100 since the military seized power in 2014.

A legal aid group said lawyer Prawet Prapanukul, 57, who has worked with the junta’s political opponents, and the others were seized separately Saturday by soldiers and held incommunicado until a Wednesday court appearance.

Anon Nampa of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said Thursday that Prawet is charged with 10 counts of lese majeste, each punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment, and three counts under the Computer Crime Act, each with a seven-year maximum sentence. Thai law caps total prison terms at 50 years.

Three of the other five people arrested were charged under the computer law for sharing on social media a post by a prominent exiled critic of the government, historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Last month, the authorities warned that it could be considered illegal to follow, contact, share or engage in any other activity that would result in sharing information from Somsak and two other writers who often post online about Thailand’s monarchy.

Andrea Giorgetta, head of the Asia section of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, said 105 people have been charged with lese majeste since a May 2014 army coup overthrew an elected government.

Thailand’s lese majeste law is the world’s harshest and routinely draws criticism from rights groups, which say it is open to politically motivated abuse.

The United Nations Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia urged the Thai government on Thursday to halt the practice of arbitrary detention of political activists, and to immediately release the six people charged Wednesday.

Laurent Meillan, the agency’s acting regional representative, said in a statement that he was very concerned by the sharp increase in the use of the lese majeste law after the 2014 coup, and that U.N. human rights experts have repeatedly stated that the implementation of the law violates the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and opinion.

He said his office is also concerned that people have been arrested and detained at undisclosed places without access to lawyers.

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